Super Crate Box is like an adorable golden retriever puppy with chainsaws strapped to all of its limbs: it’s cute and you want to play with it, but you know it is going to hurt you very badly if you do so. The game with the excellent name is the work of a Dutch studio called Vlambeer, which is also a pretty excellent name. It’s a simple arcade-style game in the single-screen, score based vein that is colorful, funny and brutally difficult.
The goal of Super Crate Box is to rack up as many points as you can before losing your single life. You gain points by collecting crates and/or boxes, which are scattered around levels that call to mind 80s-era arcade games like Donkey Kong and Hard Hat Mack. Enemies spawn from the top of the screen and run around until they drop down to the bottom level of the playing field, at which point they fall into a pit of flames. Once that happens, they respawn at the top of the stage, only now they move considerably faster. In order to survive long enough to collect the precious crate/boxes, the player has to use a huge arsenal of weapons to kill the enemies before they can self-immolate.
And where do the weapons come from? Why, from the crates, of course!
Every time the player picks up a crate, they get a randomly-chosen weapon from a list that grows as they play. Some weapons, like the rocket launcher and laser rifle, are powerful and fun to use. Others, like the double pistols or the grenade launcher, are kind of crummy. There are even some that are more dangerous to the player than the enemies, like the disc gun whose rebounding shots can – and will – kill you on their return trips. The list is pretty lengthy, and their unlockable nature provides a nice carrot for the player during the first hour or two of play.
So the goal is to collect boxes and use the weapons contained therein to kill enemies, which makes it safe for you to collect another box and repeat the cycle. What makes it all interesting, though, is the fact that your weapon is randomized every time you get another box, meaning you can’t simply find one that you like and stick to it. You may have a sweet laser rifle in hand, but your score will stagnate unless you give it up and take a chance on that next crate. It almost seems like there is some kind of Buddhist lesson to this game: forego your attachment to material objects, as they only bind you to your earthly…uh, score, I guess. Of course, the hope that your next crate will contain something fun like the gatling gun is a good incentive to keep grabbing boxes, too.
As hinted at the top of this page, SCB has two defining characteristics. First, it is pretty darn adorable. Every time you start a new game, your character is chosen from a pool of cute little square guys, from the spaceman to the 70s afro cop to the alligator. Getting high scores lets you unlock new character types, and despite the fact that they are purely cosmetic, it’s very rewarding to finally add a new one to your collection. The enemies are also nicely designed, with the little fellows being somewhat friendly looking and the big versions being almost creepy.
The other defining characteristic of Super Crate Box is that it is balls hard. With enemies coming at you from all sides and a constantly-changing arsenal, it’s really hard to keep track of just what the hell is going on much of the time. A sudden switch from the machine gun to the proximity mines can mean certain death if there are a bunch of enemies bearing down on you. In fact, despite the fast pace of the game, the best scores will go to those who play with patience, taking the time to clear a path to the next crate. Greedily jumping from box to box is a quick way to find yourself six feet under, and a poorly-played round of Super Crate Box may only last a few seconds if you don’t do a bit of planning.
To be completely fair, Super Crate Box leans pretty heavily on its aesthetics. The game itself is fun enough, certainly worth an hour or two of your time, but the charming pixel graphics go a long way toward making the experience more interesting. The soundtrack helps, too, composed of catchy FM-synth tunes that complement the retro graphics and furious action. You might not spend weeks playing Super Crate Box, but for a few hours of fun, you could do a lot worse. Just don’t get too attached to your flamethrower, and get ready for some pain.
- System: PC
- Released: 2010
- Developer: Vlambeer
- Download it for free